A stranger was in Madam Zenda’s spot, a dark-haired girl who couldn’t be much older than the two of them. She was calling out to passersby that “Madam Zenda may be the world’s greatest mind reader, but Lady Xenia can see your future. Isn’t that better? A bargain for a nickel.”
“Who can pass up an offer like that?” Bucky tugged Steve out of the crush of people towards her table. “Maybe she’ll see herself on the beach with us.”
“You mean with you.” Unless Lady Xenia had a friend stashed backstage that liked them small and artsy, Steve could foretell his own evening without ever paying the nickel. It wouldn’t be him in a dark corner with Bucky, not this weekend.
Xenia took the coin from Bucky with a gloved hand. “Which one of you wants to go first? Or...” She glanced between them, something knowing in her glance, “Should I read you together?” She tugged off her gloves and offered each of them a hand. “You fellas look like a two for the price of one deal.”
Madam Zenda was no mind reader, she was just really good at guessing what people were thinking. Xenia was probably the same, maybe they’d been standing too close. Steve took her hand anyway, because Bucky had already paid.
Xenia smiled at him, but her eyes were unfocused. “Bit of a trouble maker, aren’t we, Steve?”
Bucky hadn’t called him by name. How did she know his name?
“Come on, handsome.” She wriggled the fingers of her free hand at Bucky. “Nothing to be afraid of."
The moment Bucky’s hand slipped into hers, Xenia gave a startled gasp. Her hand tightened on Steve’s like a vise, grinding his bones together. Her next breath tore out of her as a sob, tears streaming down her face.
She was holding on too tight for Steve to get loose but Bucky was stronger, he managed to get out of her grip. “Hey, hey, that’s not funny. Let go of him.”
Xenia let go, practically fleeing behind the booth. Steve could hear her throwing up, then murmuring something that sounded like a prayer. “Do you think we should go check on her?”
Before Bucky could say anything, Xenia shouted, “Go away. Leave me alone!”
“Guess not.” Bucky looked at his left hand, perfectly normal and unremarkable. “Come on, let’s go see Doctor Couney. At least someone will be happy to see us tonight.”
The incubator exhibit cost a quarter each, more than almost any other attraction at Coney Island, but Steve always paid it. When he’d been born, small, sickly and certain to die, Doctor Couney had put him in one of those iron and glass boxes and hadn’t asked for a penny.
“Probably the whole midway’s got the flu or something.” The incident with Xenia was obviously still on Bucky’s mind. “Or maybe she saw you fighting in an alley and hates the sight of blood.”
Or maybe she’d seen him dead this winter. Hell, maybe she’d seen him dead next week if they went to the wrong bar on the wrong night. Steve had to know for sure. “Hey, look, Hilde’s on duty tonight.”
The nurse was ten years older than them, beautiful and amazing at her job. They were both a little in love with her.
“We’re not supposed to bother the nurses.” Bucky was scanning the crowds though, looking for Doctor Couney. When he didn’t find him, Bucky shrugged. “Maybe I will go say hello.”
Steve watched Bucky flirt for maybe ten seconds before he slipped out to go looking for Xenia. The booth was dark, but Steve went into the back anyway.
“I thought I told you to leave me alone.” Xenia’s eyes were red from crying, and she was drinking something with a foreign label straight from the bottle.
“I’m sorry, but I have to know.” If he was coming to the end of the line, he wanted to know. “Am I going to die?”
Xenia took another swig, eyes closed and she shook her head. “No, no, you won’t die. Neither of you will die. Now please, just go.”
1945, Somewhere in Germany
Bucky had always been a sound sleeper. He’d have had to be, to put up with Steve’s snoring for so many years. After Steve pulled him out of that factory, he wasn’t anymore. Instead, he thrashed around and talked in his sleep. Some nights, Steve thought he didn’t sleep at all. Some nights, no one on the team did.
The camp they’d raided yesterday hadn’t been operational anymore. They’d found the bodies of the prisoners still lying in the field where HYDRA had mowed them down. Bucky hadn’t said anything, not as they laid out the bodies or as they marched away from the burning buildings when they had blown up the camp to give them a funeral pyre.
Steve managed a couple hours of sleep out of sheer stubbornness and woke up from bad dreams to find Bucky already dressed, halfway through a cigarette, watching him. “Do you remember that Greek girl, at Luna Park?”
“Sure.” Steve had let them shoot him full of radiation and then gone AWOL on the strength of her prediction. They were both going home. Neither of them were going to die.
“Pretty sure I can guess what she saw.” Bucky took a deep drag and exhaled slowly, the smoke curling around his head. “I feel so damn bad for her, having to see all of this.”
Steve wondered if she was still reading fortunes or if the War had made her stop. Even Luna Park was gone, burned down while they’d been away. “Can’t imagine we were the first future soldiers she read. Our war’s just a little bit uglier. She’s probably tucked away in an OSS office somewhere.”
“I hope not.” Bucky crushed out the butt of his cigarette. “You wanna crawl out of that bag and go get on the radio?”
April 2014, Washington DC
Fighting the Winter Soldier was simultaneously brutal and much like a dance.
He was strong, strong enough to stay on his feet when Steve charged him with the shield, strong enough that a kick sent Steve flying and scrambling for cover. Steve could hear his own blood pounding in his ears as the machine gun rounds bounced off.
Ever since he’d woken up, the world felt muted and far away, even though it was actually loud and bright. Natasha called it recklessness, the way he jumped without a chute sometimes, but it was the only way he could remind himself he was still in the world.
Steve rolled to his feet, ducking gunfire to get in close to the Winter Soldier. Steve hadn’t met any baseline human who could stand toe to toe with him in a fight like this. Fighting Batroc had been a momentary distraction, there had been no real danger there.
Fighting the Winter Soldier was a challenge, and Steve was alive with it.
When the Winter Soldier tore away the shield and came at him, they danced though close combat, Steve with his fists and the Winter Soldier with his knife. Neither of them could seem to make any headway, not until the Winter Soldier made the mistake of letting Steve get his hands on the shield again.
That gave him the edge he needed. When the Winter Soldier landed a solid hit, Steve caught his mechanical arm with the edge of the shield and sent him flying.
The Winter Soldier hit the ground, face first, but rolled to his feet like it was nothing.
The adrenaline rush Steve had been riding drained away and time itself seemed to grind to a halt. “Bucky?”
The Winter Soldier just looked confused. “Who the hell is Bucky?”